Affording catering for small budget weddings: It’s a problem

Food is a problem for low budget weddings.

Let’s say you have $2500 to spend on your wedding. Let’s say you have 75 guests – not a modest amount, not a crowd. The first thing is, with this many people, your wedding will take quite a few hours. In order to host 75 people without snubbing any of them, you’re probably looking at at least 8 hours of wedding. And because there is no 8 hour stretch of wakefulness that doesn’t involve at least one meal, you’re going to have to give them, at a minimum, one meal’s worth of food. And because this is a celebration, odds are very high that you want to give them some booze too.

So there is no getting out of doing a lot of food, unless you have a really low number of guests. If you had say 35 guests or less, you could get away with just having them for a few hours, and if that’s not during a meal time, you can all just eat some cake and call it done.

But back to the 75 scenario, because I think it’s a good benchmark of wedding averageness. If you put $2500 into my favourite toy, the wedding budget calculator, and uncheck a bunch of stuff, because this is a budget wedding, and we don’t have room for a day-of coordinator, the result is a suggested breakdown that goes like this:

Celebrant: 52
Flowers: 330
Other decoration: 108
Drinks: 289
Food: 722
Bride’s dress: 309
Attendants gifts: 62
Groom’s outfit: 52
Photography: 505
Invitations: 72

This is assuming you somehow have a free venue to host 75 people (you probably don’t), you forgo cake or use it as the dessert for your meal, you don’t buy special shoes, etc etc. There is $722 for food here, and $289 for drinks. That’s $9.63 and $3.85 per person, for food and drinks and respectively. I don’t even need to write a punchline here.

Or let’s say you have 75 guests and $2500, and the couple wears clothes they already own, and they DIY decorations for free, and they email their invitations, and don’t have a photographer, and they get rid of all expenses except food and drink. $2500/75 = $33.33 per person, for a meal and drinks. Which maybe is just enough, if you self-cater, and are very shrewd about your drink offerings.

But this is a wedding. You want to make it meaningful, by having some of the common trappings of weddings, which is going to cost you at least a little bit of money.

The $2500 figure is based on being half of what the median income wedding-haver can afford by saving 10% of their post-tax income for a year. But it’s just not all that possible to have an average size wedding on that amount. Some variable is going to have to give.

Have a smaller wedding? People shouldn’t have to miss out on celebrating with a reasonable number of guests just because they have a small budget.
Save a greater portion of your income? But if your income is low, that’s hard to do.
Have a longer engagement, so you can save for a longer time? Maybe. But 12 months is already a long time to be saving for a consumable.

Maybe this post is just about grumbling a little about the cost of living in NZ. If we had higher wages or cheaper food, this wouldn’t be an issue!

The only solutions I can think of are: 1) Parents help fund the wedding, or 2) Make the wedding a bring-and-share event where guests each contribute ‘a plate of eats’, as they always used to be called in my childhood (do people still say that? A plate of eats? Sounds so old fashioned now).

I’m sure Miss Manners would be aghast at the idea of asking guests to contribute to the wedding like this. I mean, she’s already made herself very clear on the issue of cash bars. And I see her point: getting a wedding invitation would be more like a demand than getting invited to something. You can’t demand gifts. The only way a community chipping in could work, as far as I can see, is if the guests spontaneously self-organise a kind of surprise wedding reception. (And yet, we do see potluck weddings on blogs fairly often. How did these couples break that to the guests?)

So we’re left with parents contributing. I’m becoming more and more ok with that idea.

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$5500 Wedding budget: Photography (What to do when you have $850 or less for photos)

Enough already with the tales of my own wedding, let’s get back to general wedding theorising. I think it’s more fun. Onward with my favourite wedding topic: figuring out what a average wedding would be like if people only had weddings they could afford.

If your wedding budget is $5500, you have about $850 to spend on photography. But $5500 is just the estimate for the (New Zealand) median, which means half of all people would be working with less than that. If your wedding budget was $2500, you’d have about $380 to spend on photography.

A freaking joke, right? Check this out: the price quote for A Practical “fighting the system yet sponsored by Proctor and Gamble” Wedding’s* most recent photography advertorial. The starting rate given is $2950 for 8 hours of photography. Which translates to a total wedding budget of about 19k. Which to comfortably afford means an annual post-tax income of $190k. (APW is always looking out for the little guy!)

It all seems pretty hopeless, especially when you read blog after blog talking about how photography is the most important thing. Skimp on everything else, but for the love of cake, splurge on the photography! But I offer you salvation:

1. Stellar photos aren’t actually that important. Seriously, how often are you really going to look at these photos in the future? Daily at first, then once a year? After the first decade will you stop looking at them once a year? And will your affection for them really be dependent on the quality of the photos, or will it be dependent on the happiness of your memories from that day? Do you have any old, crappy quality pictures, from say your childhood, that you love and treasure?

2. Covering every minute of the day isn’t that important. The photographers’ unaffordable ‘basic package’ starting prices have a bad habit of including 6 or 8 hours of coverage.

I submit to you that you do not need that much time. I submit to you that endless pictures of the wedding party in different poses are redundant, not to mention a waste of everyone’s time especially if it happens during the reception, by Jove. Also, who gives a crap about immortalising the moment the bride applied her eyeliner. I submit to you that there is such a thing as enough photography, and it involves a full length shot of the couple, a face shot of the couple, some family group shots, and a picture of each partner with their wedding party. The stuff after that is gravy.

3. A lot of your guests have cameras. Just because there is no professional present, doesn’t mean moments aren’t being captured. In fact, your guests might be so busy acting like a crowd of paparazzi that you’ll need to actually tell them to stop it. You know how when you have a night out with your friends, a few photos always end up getting taken?  And, you know how you never find yourself wishing, Oh, If only there had been a professional photojournalist with us to take photos of us all at Beerfest? (Bad example?)My point is, there WILL be photos of your wedding day, and they will be good enough.

So here’s what I reckon people should do: hire a professional for the length of time your budget allows for, and get your portraits taken during that time. Get the group shots that are necessary, and then spend the rest of the time you have on couple portraits, and then some photojournalism of the ceremony and  the beginning of the reception if time allows. At the reception let your guests do what people do anyway at parties, which is take photos. Ask everyone to upload their pics to a photo sharing site somewhere, or to just send them to you. Choose your favourites to collect into your own album.

The thing about all those unaffordable photography packages is that if you break it down to an hourly rate, it suddenly becomes an option to get them for an hour or two. For the photographer listed above at 8 hours for $2950, that works out at arout $370 per hour. Not that that’s what that person would charge, but it illustrates the range you’re working with. Even on a legitimately low budget, you could still have someone relatively high end do your portraits for an hour before the ceremony.

I recommend figuring out the hourly rates of various photographers, finding ones you like, and then approaching them with your numbers and asking what they can for you. The Wedding Photojournalist Association is a good place to start – it’s international, and list prices (sometimes by the hour!) of photographers with links to their websites.

That is what I did. I found a handful of photographers that charge around $200 per hour, told them I have $450 to work with, and said, What have you got? The one I chose in the end offered me 2.5 hours photography with the ferry transport to the resort included. He’s offering me something less than his normal hourly rate because, get this, the fact that my wedding is so low budget and quirky (read: short casual dress) makes it valuable to him as a photographer! It’s a sweet sweet feeling when the industry works in your favour.

*I did manage to stay off APW for quite some time after I wrote this post, and it was awesome. And then I started hate-reading it.

In which I bombard you with lots of dresses

When I say a lot of dresses, I’m not messing around. There are tens of images in this post, all lovingly and inexpertly cropped by me in Paint ( I don’t have Photoshop. They should confiscate my blogging license), which took a while.

All these dresses were selected for me by the lady of impeccable taste, the always gracious Valeria Chuba, who blogs with her mate Jenny over at Cultivating Style.  The idea here was to figure out exactly what I want, so that I can then find a dressmaker and tell them what to do. So the following pictures are about shape, and not so much about colour or fabric. Once we’ve figured out the dress, Valeria is going to help me choose accessories too. I’m totally excited about working with her on this.

Valeria’s approach to style is simple: whatever you are, she will make that look awesome. Like, if you’re flat-chested, she’ll make being flat-chested look awesome. If you’re short, she’ll make being short look awesome. Or in my case, if you’re Blake Lively but with more thigh, punier arms, and less boob, she’ll make that look awesome.

Anyway, enough text already. Here’re some images:

From Nonoo:

Milly:

Pixie market (digging this hemline):

La Garconne:

Nelly:

Old Navy:

A whole bunch from Mango:

(liking these shoes too)

Topshop:

My personal fave!

More Mango!

(Are your eyes tired yet? We’re half way through)

And some more Topshop!

Alice by Temperly:

Via this article on Real Simple, we have Lilly Pullitzer,

Loft,

and J Crew:

And finally, a bunch from BurdaStyle, a fashion magazine that sells dress patterns:

Whew. That was 35 dresses, right there. My urge to go shopping (as in, go to physical shops and try stuff on) has just quadrupled and is swiftly approaching critical mass. Tunic dresses, wherefore do I not already possess one of thine ilk?

How we’re crafting the ceremony: Opening thoughts

As I write this, there’s just a little over three months to the wedding. How did that happen so fast? Combined with the fact that my very first bridal blogger-in-arms, Rogue Bride (you never forget your first), already had her wedding a few weeks ago, it’s starting to feel kind of serious. I’ve suddenly spent less time wedding theorising, and less time wedding fantasising via other blogs than I have since…oh who knows how long, and more time making spreadsheets, putting together a playlist, researching beach games to have at the reception, and thinking about the ceremony. The other day I had my first two official wedding nightmares of things going wrong on the day. A rite of passage, folks! Anyway, let me talk about how we’re approaching the ceremony.

First of all, Miss Manners’ take on it is that personalising your ceremony, especially if that means making it less solemn, is an affront to the dignified tradition of wedding ceremonies. She’s all for just going with whatever traditional wording your belief system/culture has always used. Once again, Miss Manners is halfway right.  Tradition is a strong way of imparting meaning (I also discussed that here). And that’s all well and good for people who readily identify with a given belief system. But for those of us who don’t, we’re forced to reinvent things, one couple at a time.

For instance, I don’t believe in the supernatural (including souls/spirits/ghosts, any kind of higher power, and the idea of fate). But I was raised in a Protestant community in South Africa, and between M and I, the majority of our extended family have this belief system. The customs associated with the culture are still my customs, and they can still have meaning for me even without the supernatural beliefs. I am very fond of Christmas, and damned if I’m not going to participate in giving presents just because I don’t consider Jesus my saviour. I just leave out the praying and the church-going (singing carols is still fun though). So what I want to do is adapt the Anglican, or really just general western, wedding ceremony, by leaving out the religious bits, thus rendering our wedding recognisable, traditional, and hence meaningful to everyone, while also not feeling like a charlatan.

Part of this is about the general tone the ceremony will take. Sometimes, I think the tendency towards ceremony is like a personality quirk. Kiwis tend to be  irreverent about these things, while South Africans tend to the opposite. I often read online about couples that wanted to make sure their wedding ceremony wasn’t serious and stuffy, and they consider it a success that their ceremony was filled with lightheartedness and laughter, and vows like “I promise to buy you chocolate when you’re upset”. I think it’s to do with feeling comfortable, and maybe if you’re not raised in it, ceremony is not something you feel comfortable with. The way I grew up though, in order to acknowledge that getting married is a big freaking deal, it’s serious, there needs to be some solemnity to it.

Then on the other hand, just secularising a religious ceremony isn’t going to cut it, because there are sentiments we want expressed that aren’t included in the traditional texts. Or are even the opposite of the traditional themes at weddings. Like, our love is not unconditional, and I don’t aspire for it be. I also don’t buy the idea that a successful marriage is about sacrifice, or is an exercise in tolerance. And I want to talk about being each others’ highest priorities, and how we are going to be a team in everything in life. So I need to find readings that reflect this stuff, without being publicly mushy, which I think is also a personality quirk that some people have and some people don’t.

And then we also need to acknowledge the fact that by the time this ceremony happens, we will already be legally married. I don’t want to mislead people about what is actually going on. So I need to find some wording that talks about that while still saying that actually though, its this emotions-only ceremony that is the one that matters to us.

Finally, on that note: some dress news. I went three times to try on that Karen Millen dress. The second time, some embroidery was coming undone on an elbow. They sent it back to be fixed, but it wasn’t fixed properly, but it was fixed enough that people wouldn’t notice. The third time, I took the fiance with me, and some embroidery was coming undone on the chest. Plus it became apparent we’d need to remove the shoulder pads, and then M said it looks like a doily. He says that about anything involving lace or embroidery, but he had a point that maybe I didn’t look my best self. And of course, that sucker was expensive. So I’m not getting it. The hunt resumes.

Purpose of weddings: It’s not about the legalities

Alternative titles for this post:

A case for multi-wedding marriages
or
A dress! You guys, check at this dress!*

M and I are New Zealanders. In New Zealand, once two people have been living together as a couple for three years, the de facto partnership they are in has practically the same legalities around it as an actual marriage. For instance, if you break up, assets would be split fifty-fifty. You enter this phase of financial union without doing a thing – the couple doesn’t have to go somewhere, or sign something, or make any declarations. It just becomes a truth that everything is now jointly owned.

We reached our three year mark right about the same time that we moved to Singapore. Before that though, we’d already completely merged our finances anyway. We were in it together, man. And then Singapore happened, which just further cemented the fact that as a couple, we were a done deal. Obviously emotionally, yes: if following your partner to a foreign country because he got a job there isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is. But also legally: the way the visa  situation works, M is here by what is known as an employment pass, while I am here as his dependent. The paperwork included going to the NZ High Commission to write signed statements, witnessed by an official, about how long we’ve had joint bank accounts and the like. We are officially recognised in Singapore as having a common-law marriage, and it’s what allows me to stay here with him.

It gets worse. For years we’ve had the habit of referring to each other as each other’s partner, but here in Asia, a lot of people don’t get that. And most people I’ve come across really don’t get living together before marriage.  Seriously, the number of times I’ve had to explain that we’re not married, but we live together, but it’s like being married, and actually, this is very common in NZ and it would be unusual not to live together first. So for the almost two years we’ve been living here, we’ve gotten used to just calling each other husband and wife when talking to locals. Makes conversation with a chatty cab driver that much simpler.

So why are we even getting married, when it doesn’t really change much? Well, for one, its going to be a bit more convenient to actually have a marriage certificate instead of having to prove our commitment in other ways. But for us, getting married, or more accurately, having a wedding, is not about the legal stuff at all. We’re doing it for two main reasons:

1. Making explicit all the implicit promises that we have already made to each other, and doing it in a way that our community recognises. I hate to be quoting Sex and The City, but Miranda put it perfectly, in the episode where she marries Steve: “I do actually wanna say those vows, out loud, to Steve. In front of the people I care about”

2. Acknowledging, along with our family and friends, that loving each other so much that we want to share the entire rest if our lives together, is awesome. We’ve been lucky enough to find our person, and that’s amazing, frankly, even if it is a miracle that happens to lots of people. It’s worthy of a big-ass celebration.

So once I figured out that the legal part of this wedding will be much easier to handle in Singapore than in Indonesia (for starters, Singaporeans use English), we made the decision to get the meaningless, five minute, registry office ceremony done a few days before the emotional, poignant readings, personalized vows, ring exchange ceremony at the resort.

My intention was to approach the legal thing as much like paperwork formality as possible – we’d show up in whatever we were wearing that day, sign what we needed to sign, and be done. But, it turns out, we need two witnesses. And there’s a dress code. The info online literally specifies that shorts and flip flops aren’t appropriate. What up, we live in those things.

So that means my man can wear his office wear, and I…well, I don’t look my best in my formal office wear. The thing is, for men, formal professional wear and formal social wear are the same thing. For women, they are kind of vastly different. Miss Manners discusses this issue here. And since our legal ceremony will be socially formal, and not professionally formal, I was instantly launched into fashion fantasies of a Kate Middleton-like nature.

Which brings me to this dress. I won’t bore you with listing the ways it is perfection, I’ll just let you see for yourself:

Karen Millen, I salute you.

I tend to be uber fussy, I mean discerning, about my clothes, but this one is hitting so many nails on so many heads, that when it comes to this dress, I just can’t. I just can’t not obsess over it. 

You complete me.

The only nailhead it doesn’t hit is the price.

Don’t speak. I know just what you’re saying.

You’re saying, “Lindsay, I thought this was a frugal wedding, you sell out.”

Yeah, the dress is over SG$500, and that’s not even addressing the shoe issue. So here’s the deal: it’s not coming out of my wedding budget, it’s coming out of my everyday budget. Plus I can totally wear it again. Right?! Also, you know how I just said my taste is very discerning? When my local friends just read that, they were all surprised and thought about how my ubiquitous plain t-shirt with denim shorts does not exactly reflect a keen sartorial eye. Here’s the sad truth: I’m so damn fussy about clothes, that I almost never find something that fits the bill, and hence I almost never buy new stuff, and hence, I mostly wear pretty old things that were acquired as gifts, or purchased in the days before my fussiness went stratospheric. The upshot is, I spend so little on clothes, that I can actually justify this.

Then there’s the witnesses issue for the legal ceremony. M wants his brother to be his, and I would like my mother to be mine. But since I’m all dressed up and such, and all our immediate family members will be in town, it doesn’t seem right to leave them out. We’re allowed to bring up to 20 guests to the registry office. So we’re going have all our immediate family come. And since we’re doing that, well, maybe we should all go to TWG afterwards and drink champagne and eat a macaroon or two.

Suddenly, it appears I’m having two weddings. But I don’t want to look at it like that. I still consider our non-legal ceremony on the beach to be our real wedding, the one that’s important. Now we just also have a fancy family morning tea to go with it. And the fact that I get to have both beach party princess, and elegant urbanite dresses, well, I’m not too sad about that.

*Yes, check at. That’s how we spoke where I grew up, mmkay?

Purpose of weddings: Wealth transfer?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of weddings, and I think I’ve thought my way into reconciling the fact that M and I can’t afford our wedding – my dad gifted us the funds for it. I tend to strongly align myself with the “if you can’t pay for it yourself, you can’t have it” camp, so this new perspective comes somewhat as a surprise to me.

Modern western family economics is based on a premise of independence. Once we’re officially adult (say, 21? 18?), the ideal out there is that we’re supposed to be completely self-sufficient. And I pretty much buy into this ideal. Except, it turns out, I also think it’s a kind of screwed up model.

If I want to have a kid or two (I do), and I want to raise them in a house and generally give them things that kids should have, the way things work these days is that I’ll need to take on a mortgage that could take decades to pay off. Meanwhile, raise your hand if your boomer parents live alone or with their partner, in a 3 bedroom house that is bigger than the one you’ll get when you finally finish scraping a house deposit together. I mean, does this make sense? The point at which I’ll have what I need to raise a kid will be the point at which the kid is an adult themself.

Back when the global economy was still growing, there was some logic to the model. Each generation could expect to make more money than the one before them. But now that the global economy is screwed* and contracting, the days of doing better than your parents, as a generation, have ended. The boomers are probably the most economically lucky generation that will ever have existed (cue any boomer reading this to start griping about how tough they had it in their 20s).

So, back to weddings. When my dad married my mom, he lived with his parents until his wedding day. Getting married was a major marker of entering adulthood. And part of the function of weddings those days was for the community to help the couple set up their new household, by giving them gifts of basic necessary household stuff. I think some kind of ceremonial marker of adulthood, in which the new adult is given economic help, makes a lot of sense. That this takes the form of a wedding, of course, is not fair (assumes everyone gets married; assumes everyone gets married at a convenient youngish age).

These days, marriage and weddings are different. I’ve been independent from my parents for years. I’ve been living with M for years. People are asking us what they can get us as wedding presents, because giving us kitchen appliances and such makes no sense. But man, how useful would have been, when I was say 22, if there was some kind of big celebration that involved the people who could afford it giving me a few sheets and a blender? Young people still need help, and probably we need it more than our parents did, but the cultural mechanism for a bit of inter-generational wealth transfer has disappeared.

All of which is to say, I now feel better about the fact that almost everyone I know is getting parental help to pay for their wedding. It goes against the independence ideal which is the backbone of all personal finance advice, but maybe that’s ok. It doesn’t excuse the decadence of the average wedding though. Seriously, if you need financial help and your parents are providing it, that money needs to be going towards a house deposit fund, or paying off student loans, or some other thing that affects long term net wealth. Weddings are still a consumption item.

*In my opinion, the global economy is going to stay screwed. But some people think it’s going to turn around. Dog knows that’s a massive debate that will go on forever. For now, I’m not interested in having that debate on my blog.

Book review: Is the Offbeat Bride book worth reading?

Everyone knows the Offbeat Bride blog, one of the earliest bridal blogs and the first to glorify non-mainstream weddings. And everyone knows its central message is authenticity, as in, if you really like Doctor Who, go ahead and have a Doctor Who themed wedding. But what might have seemed a very relevant and even groundbreaking discussion at first, has become absorbed everywhere, and now even Style Me Pretty brides constantly mention that they want their wedding to “reflect our personalities”.  The whole Be True to Yourself thing is kind of yawn-inducing at this point. So when, on a bookshop shelf, I came across the book that spawned the website, I wondered if there was anything in it that we haven’t heard before.

From the tag cloud in my sidebar you can see that one of my most frequently used tags is ‘authenticity’. And if you asked OBB, they’d say, Hey, We’re all authenticity all the time too! What I mean by the word is not exactly the same thing that they mean by the word, but, in the Venn diagram of authenticities, there would be some overlap. For instance, this: “…we didn’t put ourselves in debt. Instead of paying to create a fantasy land, we picked the best things our everyday lives had to offer and crafted an extra-special everyday.” Exactly, exactly, exactly.

That said, the discussion around money issues was not a very compelling one. I’d been keen to check out what the book had to say about it ever since, way back when, Meg on A Practical Wedding let us know that she contributed a sidebar in the book on the topic. So yes, you know what’s going to happen now, brace yourself for some more of my apparently unavoidable APW headdesking…Initiate:

Inevitably, the scant few hundred words about money talk a lot about emotions, and zero about actual numbers. There are four bullet points, two of them employ the phrase “feels right to you”, one says, “You don’t have to spend money in ways that make your feel financially uncomfortable”, (Teh Wisdom flows!), and the other one says, “…there are times when you’re willing to throw money at a problem to make it go away. Do it.” Arg. I hate financial advice about emotions, because it isn’t actually financial advice, and money, perhaps unlike other wedding stuff you can talk about, lives in the world of objective truths. It’s a bad idea to go into debt, whether that feels right to you or not (and evidently, going into debt for a wedding feels right for a lot of people). *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

The most useful part of the book for me was the discussion about navigating religious differences, particularly when you want a secular wedding but some of your family members are religious. Or as in our case, they don’t necessarily know that we don’t share their beliefs. Thanks to the advice in this book, we are strongly considering incorporating an ambiguous moment of silence during the ceremony, where people can think happy thoughts, or pray, or send vibes, according to their world view. We’ll also be taking heed of the caution to not discuss our wedding’s religiosity or lack thereof ahead of time with said family members.

But ultimately, the most engrossing part of the book is the awesomeness of Ariel Stallings herself, author and founder of all the Offbeat offshoots. It didn’t take many pages of reading before I was sucked into her coolness, and the book is mostly a record of sorts of her own wedding experience. It’s like reading her personal wedding blog, except there’s chapters instead of posts and you get to read them all at once. Feeling teenagerish, when she says stuff like, “I wanted to dress for the wedding the same way I would for my faviourite kind of party, which is to say like a fairy-freakish electro forest queen”, apart from vigorously agreeing, I couldn’t help kind of wanting to be friends with her and wishing I could have been at that wedding. It sounds damn fun. Minutes after I finished the book I did the googling necessary to find her wedding pictures, and got totally adolescently inspired by this bridal portrait. She looks fierce.

She’s the cool older sister, and while reading the book I found myself constantly evaluating where my own wedding would sit on the offbeatness scale, and alternately feeling totally aligned with her, and then wondering if I was overstating my wedding’s offbeatness in an effort to be like the cool kids. But seriously, turns out my wedding is going to pretty damn offbeat, and the book provided some nice solidarity, even if she’s more extreme than me. So I’d say if you’re someone who is not having a mainstream wedding, and is looking for some like-minded reassurance, then yes, it is worth reading.